Chapter 48: M. de Mazarin’s Receipt

  1. 47: De Belliere’s Plate & Diamonds
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 49: M Colbert’s Rough Draught

Fouquet would have uttered an exclamation of delight on seeing another friend arrive, if the cold air and constrained appearance of Aramis had not restored all his reserve. “Are you going to join us at our dessert?” he asked. “And yet you would be frightened, perhaps, at the noise we madcaps are making.”

“Monseigneur,” replied Aramis, respectfully, “I will begin by begging you to excuse me for having interrupted this merry meeting; and then I will beg you to give me, after your pleasure, a moment’s audience on matters of business.”

As the word “business” had aroused the attention of some of the epicureans present, Fouquet rose, saying, “Business first of all, M. d’Herblay; we are too happy when matters of business arrive only at the end of a meal.”

As he said this, Fouquet took the hand of Madame de Belliere, who looked at him with a kind of uneasiness, and then led her to an adjoining salon, after having recommended her to the most reasonable of his guests. And then, taking Aramis by the arm, the superintendent led him towards his cabinet.

Aramis, on reaching the cabinet, forgot respect and etiquette; he threw himself into a chair, saying, “Guess whom I have seen this evening?”

“My dear Chevalier, every time you begin in that manner I am sure to hear you announce something disagreeable.

“Well, and this time you will not be mistaken, either, my dear friend,” replied Aramis.

“Do not keep me in suspense,” added the superintendent, phlegmatically.

“Well, then, I have seen Madame de Chevreuse.”

“The old duchess, do you mean?”


“Her ghost, perhaps?”

“No, no; the old she-wolf herself.”

“Without teeth?”

“Possibly, but not without claws.”

“Well! what harm can she meditate against me? I am no miser, with women who are not prudes. Generosity is a quality that is always prized, even by the woman who no longer dares to provoke love.”

“Madame de Chevreuse knows very well that you are not avaricious, since she wishes to draw some money out of you.

“Indeed! under what pretext?”

“Oh, pretexts are never wanting with her! Let me tell you what hers is. It seems that the duchess has a good many letters of M. de Mazarin’s in her possession.”

“I am not surprised at that, for the prelate was gallant enough.”

“Yes; but these letters have nothing whatever to do with the prelate’s love-affairs. They concern, it is said, financial matters.”

“And accordingly they are less interesting.”

“Do you not suspect what I mean?”

“Not at all.”

“You have never heard that there was a charge of embezzlement?”

“Yes, a hundred, nay, a thousand times. Since I have been engaged in public matters I have hardly heard anything else but that,- just as in your own case when you, a bishop, are charged with impiety, or a musketeer, with cowardice. The very thing of which they are always accusing ministers of finance is the embezzlement of public funds.”

“Very good. But let us specify; for according to the duchess, M. de Mazarin specifies.”

“Let us see what he specifies.”

“Something like a sum of thirteen million livres, the disposal of which it would be very embarrassing for you to disclose.”

“Thirteen millions!” said the superintendent, stretching himself in his arm-chair, in order to enable him the more comfortably to look up towards the ceiling,- “thirteen millions! I am trying to remember them out of all those I have been accused of stealing.”

“Do not laugh, my dear monsieur; it is serious. It is certain that the duchess has certain letters in her possession; and these letters must be genuine, since she wished to sell them to me for five hundred thousand livres.”

“Oh, one can have a very tolerable calumny for such a sum as that!” replied Fouquet. “Ah! now I know what you mean”; and he began to laugh heartily.

“So much the better,” said Aramis, a little reassured.

“I remember the story of those thirteen millions now. Yes, yes, I remember them quite well.”

“I am delighted to hear it; tell me about them.”

“Well, then, one day Signor Mazarin, Heaven rest his soul! made a profit of thirteen millions upon a concession of lands in the Valtelline; he cancelled them in the registry of receipts, sent them to me, and then made me advance them to him for war expenses.”

“Very good; then there is no doubt of their proper disbursement?”

“No; the Cardinal placed them under my name, and gave me a receipt.”

“You have the receipt?”

“Of course,” said Fouquet, as he quietly rose from his chair, and went to his large ebony bureau, inlaid with mother-of-pearl and gold.

“What I most admire in you,” said Aramis, with an air of great satisfaction, “is your memory, in the first place; then, your self-possession; and finally, the perfect order which prevails with you,- you, a poet par excellence.”

“Yes,” said Fouquet, “I am orderly out of a spirit of idleness, to save myself the trouble of looking after things; and so I know that Mazarin’s receipt is in the third drawer under the letter M. I open the drawer, and place my hand upon the very paper I need. In the night, without a light, I could find it”; and with a confident hand he felt the bundle of papers which were piled up in the open drawer. “Nay, more than that,” he continued, “I remember the paper as if I saw it. It is thick, somewhat crumpled, with gilt edges. Mazarin had made a blot upon the figure of the date. Ah!” he said, “the paper knows we are talking about it, and that we want it very much, and so it hides itself out of the way.” As the superintendent looked into the drawer, Aramis rose from his seat. “This is very singular,” said Fouquet.

“Your memory is treacherous, my dear Monseigneur; look in another drawer.”

Fouquet took out the bundle of papers, and turned them over once more; he then became very pale.

“Don’t confine your search to that drawer,” said Aramis; “look elsewhere.”

“Quite useless. I have never made a mistake. No one but myself arranges any papers of mine of this nature; no one but myself ever opens this drawer, of which, besides, no one but myself is aware of the secret.”

“What do you conclude, then?” said Aramis, agitated.

“That Mazarin’s receipt has been stolen from me. Madame de Chevreuse was right, Chevalier; I have appropriated the public funds; I have robbed the State coffers of thirteen millions of money; I am a thief, M. d’Herblay.”

“Nay, nay; do not get irritated, do not get excited!”

“And why not, Chevalier? Surely there is every reason for it. If the legal proceedings are well arranged, and a judgment is given in accordance with them, your friend the superintendent can follow to Montfauçon his colleague Enguerrand de Marigny and his predecessor Semblançay.”

“Oh,” said Aramis, smiling, “not so fast!”

“And why not? Why not so fast? What do you suppose Madame de Chevreuse will have done with those letters,- for you refused them, I suppose?”

“Yes; at once. I suppose that she went and sold them to M. Colbert.”


“I said I supposed so. I might have said I was sure of it, for I had her followed; and when she left me, she returned to her own house, went out by a back door, and proceeded straight to the intendant’s house in the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs.”

“Legal proceedings will be instituted, then scandal and dishonor will follow; and all will fall upon me like a thunderbolt, blindly, harshly, pitilessly.”

Aramis approached Fouquet, who sat trembling in his chair, close to the open drawers; he placed his hand on his shoulder, and in an affectionate tone of voice said, “Do not forget that the position of M. Fouquet can in no way be compared to that of Semblançay or of Marigny.”

“And why not, in Heaven’s name?”

“Because the proceedings against those ministers were determined, completed, and the sentence carried out; while in your case the same thing cannot take place.”

“Another blow! Why not? A peculator is, under any circumstances, a criminal.”

“Those criminals who know how to find a safe asylum are never in danger.”

“What! Make my escape,- fly?”

“No; I do not mean that. You forget that all such proceedings originate in the parliament; that they are instituted by the procureur-général, and that you are the procureur-général. You see that unless you wish to condemn yourself-”

“Oh!” cried Fouquet suddenly, dashing his fist upon the table.

“Well, what? What is the matter?”

“I am procureur-général no longer.”

Aramis at this reply became as livid as death; he pressed his hands together convulsively, and with a wild, haggard look, which almost annihilated Fouquet, said, laying a stress upon every syllable, “You are procureur-général no longer, do you say?”


“Since when?”

“Since four or five hours ago.”

“Take care!” interrupted Aramis, coldly. “I do not think you are in full possession of your senses, my friend; collect yourself!”

“I tell you,” returned Fouquet, “that a little while ago some one came to me, brought by my friends, to offer me fourteen hundred thousand livres for the appointment, and that I have sold it.”

Aramis looked as if he had been thunder-stricken; the intelligent and mocking expression of his countenance was changed to an expression of gloom and terror which had more effect upon the superintendent than all the exclamations and speeches in the world. “You had need of money, then?” he said at last.

“Yes; to discharge a debt of honor”; and in a few words he gave Aramis an account of Madame de la Belliere’s generosity, and of the manner in which he had thought he ought to repay that generosity.

“Yes,” said Aramis; “that is, indeed, a fine trait. What has it cost?”

“Exactly the fourteen hundred thousand livres,- the price of my appointment.”

“Which you received in that manner, without reflection. Oh, imprudent friend!”

“I have not yet received the amount; but I shall to-morrow.”

“It is not yet completed, then?”

“It must be carried out, though; for I have given the goldsmith, for twelve o’clock to-morrow, an order upon my treasury, into which the purchaser’s money will be paid at six or seven o’clock.”

“Heaven be praised!” cried Aramis, clapping his hands together; “nothing is yet completed, since you have not been paid.”

“But the goldsmith?”

“You shall receive the fourteen hundred thousand livres from me at a quarter before twelve.”

“Stay a moment! It is at six o’clock, this very morning, that I am to sign.”

“Oh, I tell you that you will not sign!”

“I have given my word, Chevalier.”

“If you have given it, you will take it back again; that is all.”

“Ah! what are you saying to me?” cried Fouquet, in a most expressive tone. “Fouquet recall his word, after it has been once pledged!”

Aramis replied to the almost stern look of the minister with a look full of anger. “Monsieur,” he said, “I believe I have deserved to be called a man of honor, have I not? As a soldier I have risked my life five hundred times; as a priest I have rendered great services, both to the State and to my friends. The value of a word, once passed, is estimated according to the worth of the man who gives it. So long as it is in his own keeping it is of the purest, finest gold; when his wish to keep it has passed away, it is a two-edged sword. With that word, therefore, he defends himself as with an honorable weapon, considering that when he disregards his word,- that man of honor,- he endangers his life, he courts the risk rather than that his adversary should secure advantages. And then, Monsieur, he appeals to Heaven- and to justice.”

Fouquet bent down his head, as he replied: “I am a poor Breton, opinionated and commonplace; my mind admires and fears yours. I do not say that I keep my word from a moral instinct; I keep it, if you like, by force of habit. But at all events, the ordinary run of men are simple enough to admire this custom of mine. It is my single virtue; leave me the honor of it.”

“And so you are determined to sign the sale of the office which would defend you against all your enemies?”

“Yes, I shall sign.”

“You will deliver yourself up, then, bound hand and foot, from a false notion of honor, which the most scrupulous casuists would disdain?”

“I shall sign,” repeated Fouquet.

Aramis sighed deeply, and looked all round him with the impatient gesture of a man who would gladly dash something to pieces, as a relief to his feelings. “We have still one means left,” he said; “and I trust you will not refuse to make use of that?”

“Certainly not, if it be loyal and honorable,- as everything is, in fact, which you propose.”

“I know nothing more loyal than a renunciation of your purchaser. Is he a friend of yours?”

“Certainly; but-”

“‘But’!- if you allow me to manage the affair, I do not despair.”

“Oh, you shall be absolute master!”

“With whom are you in treaty? What man is it?”

“I am not aware whether you know the parliament?”

“Most of its members. One of the presidents, perhaps?”

“No; only a counsellor-”

“Ah, ah!”

“Who is named Vanel.”

Aramis became purple. “Vanel!” he cried, rising abruptly from his seat, “Vanel! the husband of Marguerite Vanel?”


“Of your former mistress?”

“Yes, my dear fellow. She is anxious to be Madame the Procureuse-General. I certainly owed poor Vanel that slight concession; and I am a gainer by it, since I at the same time confer a pleasure on his wife.”

Aramis walked straight to Fouquet, and took hold of his hand. “Do you know,” he said very calmly, “the name of Madame Vanel’s new lover?”

“Ah! she has a new lover, then? I was not aware of it; no, I have no idea what his name is.”

“His name is M. Jean Baptiste Colbert; he is intendant of the finances; he lives in the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, where Madame de Chevreuse has this evening carried Mazarin’s letters, which she wishes to sell.”

“Gracious Heaven!” murmured Fouquet, passing his hand across his forehead, from which the perspiration was starting.

“You now begin to understand, do you not?”

“That I am lost,- yes.”

“Do you now think it worth while to be so scrupulous with regard to keeping your word?”

“Yes,” said Fouquet.

“These obstinate people always contrive matters in such a way that one cannot but admire them,” murmured Aramis.

Fouquet held out his hand to him; and at the very moment a richly ornamented tortoise-shell clock, supported by golden figures, which was standing on a console table opposite to the fireplace, struck six. The sound of a door opening in the vestibule was heard.

“M. Vanel,” said Gourville, at the door of the cabinet, “inquiries if Monseigneur can receive him.”

Fouquet turned his eyes from those of Aramis and replied, “Let M. Vanel come in.”

  1. 47: De Belliere’s Plate & Diamonds
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 49: M Colbert’s Rough Draught